Is AI today’s big bad wolf?

4 min read


The misadventures of Pinoy pride

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben to Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

When Aboitiz Data Innovation mounted the first ever Philippine AI (Artificial Intelligence) summit, I felt that those words from Uncle Ben were resonating through the halls of the Marriott Grand Ballroom, where the two-day event was being held. Employee displacement, questions about honesty and ethics; these issues swirled in the air, as AI and its limitless and beneficial possibilities, applications, and potential, were being discussed.

If you ask me what my answer to the title would be, I’d stick out my neck to say that the quick answer, based on what I gleaned over the two days, is that AI is definitely here to stay, and it isn’t the big bad wolf – but don’t mistake it’s sharp teeth and claws for anything else. It’s pretty much like talking about a chainsaw – one can look at it as a tool/technological marvel that helps us when we need to clear land and cut down trees; but it’s also an implement of violent murder in the wrong hands. In itself, AI isn’t ‘bad’, and definitely can be used for good; but don’t underestimate it’s potential to be wrongly used, to be misused, and abused.

And I’ll commend the Aboitiz Group for putting this highly enlightening summit together, and leading the conversation. For it was eye-opening to hear and appreciate that AI has been here for decades, but in formats that didn’t seem to be of much controversy. It’s now, with chatbots and Large Language Models (LLM) of an unbelievable capability in mainstream use, with cyber security such a concern, and instances of digital fraud hogging social media posts the other week, that the repercussions of how AI can be utilized has become such a pressing issue. And one important takeaway for me is that any talk of outlawing or regulating AI is really ‘pie in the sky’ chatter. We have to embrace the fact that it’s here and easily accessed, and find ways to attach responsibility to its widespread use.

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David Hardoon, CEO of Aboitiz Data Innovation, and Chief Data and AI Officer, Union Bank, with Pres & CEO of Union Digital Bank, Henry Aguda.

David Hardoon, the CEO of Aboitiz Data Innovation, said it best when he opened the summit, “We are thrilled to host the very first AI summit in the country, bringing together the brightest minds in the industry to discuss and showcase the latest trends and innovations in artificial intelligence. The summit is a testament to our commitment to driving data-driven innovation in the Philippines. Our objective is to inspire attendees to explore and implement solutions that can transform both the private and public sectors. We look forward to an event that will foster open knowledge-sharing and collaboration, unlocking the full potential of AI towards the future we want.”

Consistent throughout the two days, was the sentiment and exhortation to “jump in the AI pool” and try it out. If a novice, first stick to the ‘shallow water’ where content creation is at low risk. Insofar as the issue of AI making people redundant is concerned, the overriding impression I got was that we will not lose our jobs to AI as such, but we may lose it to someone who has adapted to AI. On this, the writing on the wall is quite clear – up-to-date skill sets will be the order of the day, and a facility with AI will be an advantage.

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Sec. Ivan Uy, Department of Information and Communications Technology; who graced the Summit during the second day.

Searching for an analogy to help make this clearer, I thought of architects and how they use AutoCAD Architecture and/or ArchiCAD. At the onset of this technological tool, you could say that architects would sit at their drafting tables, and painstakingly come up with designs, floor plans, renderings, and perspectives. If one firm was quicker to recognize the potential and benefits of these CAD ‘tools’ to help hasten their output, did that make them less qualified as architects, or equate to ‘cheating’? The widespread acceptance of CAD today, would seem to answer that.

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Richard Coombes Regional Customer Solutions Manager, Google Cloud – Southeast Asia

At a Roundtable discussion, Union Digital Bank President and CEO Henry Aguda, was one of the resource speakers talking about how the right product and technology mix could drive digital bank profitability; and that with improved AI, we may see new digital bank entrants. Penetration, especially for those of an older age, is still relatively low in this country, as old habits die hard among banking clients. And I felt that while accessibility and convenience are givens, trust in digital banking may still be a hurdle to overcome.

On the first day of the summit, I liked the presentation of Richard Coombes, from Google Cloud Southeast Asia. Establishing how Google is one of the pioneers in AI, he then spoke about Bard, their new chatbot. And here is where he took a page from the quotation that led this column. Google plans to do extensive monitoring, looking out for unintended consequences; for at Google, it’s not just about performance, but also about transparency, and ultimately, responsibility.

Congratulations, and thanks to Aboitiz Data Innovation for these two days that set the tone for the conversation that needs to be jumpstarted, and heard, now!

(The article was originally published by  PHILIP CU UNJIENG on May 21, 2023 on Manila Bulletin.)